Lions fancy their chances

2012-09-22 00:00

HIGH profile defeats at Ellis Park, twice in seven months, has concentrated the Sharks’ minds wonderfully ahead of tonight’s top-of-the-log Currie Cup clash against the Golden Lions.

It was at the end of October last year that the confident Sharks, bolstered by the return of seven Rugby World Cup Springboks, were thumped 42-16 by the Lions in the Currie Cup final.

The bottom-of-the-log Lions were at it again early in June when they turned the Super Rugby formbook on its head and upset the Sharks 38-28. This defeat was significant because it cost the Sharks, who were on an impressive roll, a Super Rugby home quarter-final, forcing them to travel for all three of their play-off games.

The Sharks, on both those trips to Ellis Park, were distracted and perhaps complacency played a role in their unexpected losses. Certainly they lacked intensity and accuracy and on both occasions they were ruthlessly punished by a lively, committed Lions outfit.

Sharks coach John Plumtree has all the ammunition he needs to ensure that his players have their minds on the job tonight.

The teams, in terms of results and performance, appear exceedingly well matched. They are tied at the top of the log with the champion Lions just ahead on points difference.

It is a crucial game and the team emerging with a win will be in pole position to end the Currie Cup season in first place to secure home ground advantage in the play-offs.

“We know how tough they are going to be,” Plumtree said. “We haven’t won up there for a long time now and they’ve found some really good form

“We’re going to have to be at our best and certainly a lot better than the last few times we visited their home ground. It’s a really big game for us.”

He said that the Lions had improved between 30 or 40% since the Sharks beat them 30-14 in the first round of the Currie Cup at King’s Park.

This has been the Lions’ annus horribilis as they have been relegated from the Super Rugby competition, their two senior coaches, John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer, have been fired, bank managers are banging on their door and their better players are seeking greener pastures.

But, under caretaker coach Johan Ackermann, they have reacted positively and over the past fortnight have beaten the Blue Bulls at Loftus (32-23) and the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein (38-23).

“Their confidence is going to be right up there,” said Plumtree. “We know we are going to have to play very well to win up there at altitude.”

The Sharks will at least go to Ellis Park with their heads high after running in four tries in atrocious conditions to beat Western Province 43-27 last weekend. They have also been boosted by the return of Craig Burden, Steven Sykes and Lwazi Mvovo, while Paul Jordaan will be a major threat off the bench.

With both teams committed to an expansive, ball-in-hand approach, it promises to be an entertaining affair and the Sharks are looking to their strong defence to carry them to victory.

“I don’t expect the Lions to change their style for this match,” said Plumtree.

“They can carry up the middle of the field or they can go wide so our defence is going to be very important.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks had to keep Elton Jantjies quiet if they were to win, adding that the Lions flyhalf had a complete set of skills.

“When he plays well, the Lions play well and we have to make sure he does not have a big game against us.”

He said that the Lions, happy to be back home after successive wins on the road, would fancy their chances of again downing the Sharks. “They love playing the Sharks, but we will be up for it too.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks, if they find their form, could beat any team in the competition, but they could also lose to anybody if they went walkabout.

The key to beating the Lions, said the Sharks coach, was maintaining their concentration and intensity. “We have to ensure we are completely focused if we are to end the run of defeats up there,” said Plumtree.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Tim Whitehead, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Riaan Viljoen, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Keegan Daniel (capt), 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Anton Bresler, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Brynard Stander, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Paul Jordaan, 22 Sibusiso Sithole.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach/Jaco Taute, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willie Britz, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes/Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain)

Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 tienne Oosthuizen/Ruan Botha, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Butch James, 22 Jaco Taute/Dylan des Fountain

Referee: Jason Jaftha.

Kick-off: 7.10 pm

Today’s fixtures (home team first): WP vs Griquas, 3.00 pm; Blue Bulls vs Free State Cheetahs, 5.05 pm.

Golden Lions vs Sharks: 7:10 pm.

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